Nerial's Reigns series recently received its third entry in the form of a Game of Thrones spinoff, also published by indie gaming's darling Devolver Digital. The curious crossover already garnered a lot of attention, especially with fans of George R.R. Martin's franchise and HBO's hit TV show being absolutely starved for a new content fix by now. However, does the game stand on its own, even without the draw of a massively popular license?
In short – yes; yes, it absolutely does. Reigns: Game of Thrones is basically the ultimate version of Nerial's ruling simulator that takes everything we loved about the first two games and manages to make it better, more meaningful, and surprising. If you aren't familiar with this franchise, Reigns is a highly streamlined take on ruling that (usually) has you making binary decisions about your kingdom and underlings in a Tinder-like fashion – by swiping left and right. Things can get a bit more complicated than that but not by much, and the vast majority of your time will be spent making such one-or-the-other choices.
Nearly every decision you make affects one or more of four metrics: your power, standing with the dominant religion, popularity with the people, and money. Drop too low in any of those aspects, and you'll be removed from power, usually in a way that has a bunch of crazy people do gruesome things to your body. Speaking of which, Reigns: Game of Thrones can get pretty descriptive even though its depictions of violence are scarce and mostly benign, so this is probably not the kind of title you'd want to give to a really young kid to play, provided they'd even be amused by its text-heavy gameplay.
Reigns: Game of Thrones also does a lot of justice to the lore of both Westeros and Essos, though keep in mind this is still a rather liberal interpretation of the fantasy world you've seen on the TV and not the one from Martin's lengthy books (we're all still begging for Winds of Winter), as evidenced by the giant HBO logo plastered you'll encounter every time you launch the game. Sure, the Game of Thrones TV series is based on the novels and Martin himself even worked as a consultant for the show for several seasons but if you're wondering why some characters act the way they do (or don't exist), it's because they're modeled after their television counterparts.
For the most part, Reigns: Game of Thrones does a great job of being faithful to the lore and introducing new elements and twists without feeling like fan fiction. There are eight characters you can play as, with all of them seizing the Iron Throne due to a variety of circumstances, some logical, some surprising, and some unexplained. Daenerys Targaryen is the starting character and while you should be familiar with the other seven, we won't spoil them for you as unlocking them through gameplay is a big part of the overall fun for the first several hours.
Every time you fail after your initial run, you'll be able to choose a character you want to continue as. Speaking of failing, it will happen. A lot. In fact, before you have access to all characters, you won't even be allowed to truly succeed, i.e. every single one of your runs will result in a less-than-stellar fate of your protagonist. As it turns out, there's no retirement plan for Westeros rulers, other than exile, which is also by far the least violent bad ending you can encounter. After you're able to play as all eighth characters, you'll unlock a second component of the game that will provide you with vague clues on how to achieve some semblance of success with every one of them. By success, we mean surviving winter, i.e. the White Walkers. Even after you manage to do so, you're still left with chasing a high score, i.e. surviving for as many "moons" on the throne as possible. As it turns out, not even defeating the bringers of the apocalypse is enough to please the people of Westeros and you'll be gutted sooner or later as the game of thrones wages on.
Before you start thinking the third addition to the Reigns franchise will somehow spoil the ending of the show for you, note that all methods of defeating the White Walkers are presented in an extremely lore-friendly manner which may not make much sense right now but it will after you experience them. Without spoiling anything, let's just say the fate of Martin's world is still wide open and we aren't any closer to knowing how the HBO series (and the books) will end after finishing the game. While HBO certainly oversaw the development of the game to a degree, some potential solutions to the White Walker problem also appear to be heavily inspired by popular fan theories about the ending of the series.
Ultimately, Reigns: Game of Thrones is an amazing game well-worth of that $3.99 price tag that's attached to it on both the Google Play Store and Apple's App Store, as well as Steam for Windows, macOS, and Linux. It does justice to the gigantic lore of this fantasy universe HBO adapted from Martin's work and is just immensely fun to play even if you aren't an aficionado of the series (there are dozens of you out there, dozens). Some deaths still feel a bit unexpected and the random nature of even sequences will often make success impossible, though rarely in a way that will feel frustrating. As was the case with the first two Reigns games, this crossover entry has that just-one-more-try quality that will keep you entertained for many weeks, regardless of whether you need to fill ten minutes of your daily commute or are preparing to spend an evening on your couch. If that sounds like your cup of tea, this will be one of the best mobile gaming investments you've made in 2018. As an added bonus, we now have zero issues with passing the time until Red Dead Redemption 2 launches on Friday.